SONNY FORTUNE: ‘Infinity Is’ (Wounded Bird)

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This was the second of three excellent albums that multi-reed man Sonny Fortune recorded for mighty Atlantic Records in the late 1970s. Before he joined Ahmet Ertegun’s label he’d famously played alto sax and flute in Miles Davis’ band, replacing the departing Dave Liebman. Although Fortune was playing some pretty wild stuff with Miles (he featured on the ’70s albums ‘Big Fun,’ ‘Get Up With It,’ ‘Agharta’ and ‘Pangaea’) his own records were much more structured, considered and commercially viable.

In fact, ‘Infinity Is’ – the 1978 follow up to ’77’s ‘Serengeti Minstrel’ – is a tasty smooth fusion set that’s on a par with some of the records that someone like Grover Washington Jr was doing at the time. It opens with a breezy, fluid and very attractive fusion groove penned by Fortune’s keyboard player, Larry Willis. Fortune plays soprano sax, delivering a beautifully mellifluous solo. Fortune and his band (with the redoubtable Anthony Jackson on bass, Steve Jordan on drums, Ray Gomez on guitar and Tom Browne on trumpet) lay down a funky groove a la Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters on ‘This Side Of Infinity.’ Fortune switches to flute for the deliciously mellow and atmospheric ‘Perihelion,’ which glides along gracefully thanks to a gentle and mesmeric rhythm track.

Arguably the most powerful track is the dramatic ‘A Ballad For The Times,’ which opens with some rhapsodic piano arpeggios from Larry Willis before Fortune enters with a mournful yet haunting melody on the soprano sax. The song builds beautifully towards a loud and passionate climax, before subsiding. It’s the standout cut on an album that’s ripe for reappraisal by the jazz world. Mind you, the no frills label Wounded Bird won’t win any awards for their presentation (they never include liner notes on their reissues) but the fact that they’ve released this forgotten gem – as well as Sonny Fortune’s other Atlantic albums ‘Serengeti Minstrel’ and ‘With Sound Reason’ – is to their credit.

(CW) 4/5